Assault weapons ban dropped, gun control supporters move on

The uphill climb to pass an assault weapons ban grew steeper yesterday, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he was setting the legislation aside for now to focus proposals to reduce gun violence that could win more support. But rather than put up a fight, some of the biggest gun control proponents are focusing this week on building support for other key proposals.

"The assault weapons ban was always an uphill battle this session," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement. "As we have known all along, we face a marathon effort and not a sprint."

It was the tragedy in Blumenthal's home state last year -- the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. -- that sparked the ongoing debate over reducing gun violence. Blumenthal and other lawmakers have been working on a number of proposals to reduce gun violence, covering everything from combating illegal gun trafficking and enhancing school safety to strengthening background checks and improving the mental health system.

Reid insisted yesterday that all of these measures deserved a vote -- but that including some of them in the main legislative package brought to the Senate floor would sink the entire effort. The main bill that Reid will introduce will have to get at least 60 votes to get past a GOP-led filibuster, he explained. So by starting with a pared-down bill, Reid said he could at least get a gun control measure on the Senate floor. At that point, the assault weapons ban and other less popular measures could be voted on as amendments.

"I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there," Reid said. "People are deserving of votes on their issues they feel so strongly about."

The chances of an assault weapons ban passing as an amendment, however, look dim. Reid said there are less than 40 votes of support for the measure in the Senate at this point.

The proposal, authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee last week with only Democratic support. It passed following a heated exchange between Feinstein and freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. After Cruz lectured Feinstein about the Second Amendment, the California senator snapped at him, "I am not a sixth grader!"

In the Judiciary Committee, Feinstein's assault weapons ban was combined with legislation banning high-capacity magazine clips . The ban on high-capacity clips is important to gun safety advocates who argue that it is among the most surefire ways to prevent shooters from killing dozens of people within minutes.

Now that Reid will only put the assault weapons ban up for a vote as an amendment, some advocates for gun control want the ban on high-capacity clips to be put up as a separate amendment -- essentially acknowledging it has a better chance of passing if it's not tied to the assault weapons ban.

"Families in Newtown and across the country deserve a robust debate on efforts to reduce gun violence," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a statement. "While the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 is an incredibly important part of this debate, I continue to believe that a more targeted ban on high capacity magazines is an equally effective way to reduce casualties in episodes of mass violence. I believe we need to have a separate floor vote on a high capacity magazine restriction, and I look forward to working with other senators in the coming weeks to develop a reasonable restriction on large volume magazines that can gain bipartisan support."